Christopher Hitchens, an internationally known columnist, intellectual and author whose provocative books and essays in Slate, Vanity Fair, the Atlantic and other publications have hammered at organized religion, the Clintons, Winston Churchill and Mother Teresa alike, appeared Wednesday, March 3, before a packed audience at UCLA to portray anti-Semitism as "the godfather of all other forms of racism" and "the gateway to the tyranny of fascism and war."
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Alternating between black humor, biting sarcasm and insightful analysis, Hitchens took over the podium at Korn Convocation Hall to deliver the eighth annual Daniel Pearl Memorial Lecture at UCLA to an audience of more than 400 people, including Pearl's father, Judea Pearl, an emeritus professor of computer science at UCLA and president of a foundation formed to continue his son's mission of promoting cross-cultural understanding through journalism and music.
Daniel Pearl, a prominent Wall Street Journal reporter and the paper's South Asia bureau chief, was kidnapped and murdered by terrorists in Pakistan in 2002.
Hitchens joined a distinguished list of prominent journalists who have delivered the annual lecture, including Anderson Cooper, David Brooks, Ted Koppel, Larry King, Jeff Greenfield, Daniel Schorr and Thomas Friedman.
Before Hitchens began his remarks, Judea Pearl explained that in the initial years following his son's death, the family had not wanted to dwell on the "negative, deranged mindset behind the ideology of his murderers," but instead had concentrated on the positive aspects of Daniel's legacy.
"But recently, we came to recognize that if we want to be true to our mission of rolling back the tsunami of hatred that is currently sweeping our planet, we must first map its undercurrents, analyze its anatomy and understand its circuitry in full scientific detail," Pearl said.
Hitchens opened with a clip of a recent KTLA interview with an unapologetic Mel Gibson nearly four years after his infamous anti-Semitic tirade during a drunk-driving arrest, and urged his listeners to be vigilant against a hatred that cannot be eradicated, to "fight it without pity," but also to be discerning in picking out the real enemies and toxic forms of anti-Semitism, such as that posed by Islamic jihad.
Citing liberally from the writings of historians, intellectuals and literary authors, Hitchens illustrated how difficult it can be to characterize anti-Semitism. Are all anti-Zionists, Holocaust deniers and far right-wingers anti-Semites? Not necessarily, he said. But neither are all liberals immune from such hatred. For example, he pointed out, "I would have not expected to see the day when supposedly liberal websites ... would [carry] stories about Israel stealing body parts," he said, referring to an article published in a leftist Swedish newspaper in August 2009 that spread across the Internet and created an international firestorm.
He also noted that the massive Ponzi scheme perpetrated by Bernard Madoff did not trigger a wave of anti-Semitism in the U.S. "There was a time when something like that would have," he said. "But almost everyone in the United States has a Jewish friend. They know not to generalize. I have a feeling that in the U.S., it's well-controlled," although he added, "I'm not going to say this is the promised land."
Ranked the 11th most influential print/online columnist by the website Mediaite, Hitchens has elicited both praise and criticism for his acerbic observations on Beltway politics, world affairs, and contemporary thought and culture. His no-holds-barred style of journalism and analysis has earned him many honors, including a National Magazine Award in 2007 and a spot as a finalist for the 2007 National Book Award.
A classically trained graduate of Cambridge and Balliol College, Oxford, with an honors degree in philosophy, politics and economics, Hitchens has penned more than a dozen books, including the New York Times bestseller "God is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything." He emigrated from England in 1981 and became a naturalized U.S. citizen in 2007.
Established at UCLA in 2002, the lecture series honors the life and work of Daniel Pearl. The Hitchens lecture was presented by the UCLA Burkle Center for International Relations, the Daniel Pearl Foundation and the Yitzhak Rabin Hillel Center for Jewish Life at UCLA.